NHS doctors in England are increasingly having to make special requests on behalf of their patients to gain treatments for basic medical services, which includes sight-saving drugs and operations.

This is according to a series of Freedom of Information requests attained by GP Online, which found that individual funding requests (IFRs) – that are requests by doctors to access rationed care - rose by 19% from 2010/11 to 2011/12.

In England, there were 85,200 requests last year, GP found, but as the number of requests has risen, the proportion approved has fallen, from 59% in 2008/09 to 55% in 2011/12.

An IFR is made when a local NHS body will not fund a certain treatment, usually because it deems it of low medical importance, such as bariatric surgery and fertility treatment. But the FOI found that 10% of the Individual Funding Requests relate to treatments for macular degeneration, such as Novartis’ Lucentis (ranibizumab).

Steve Winyard, head of policy and campaigns at the Royal National Institute of Blind People, told GP Online that IFRs were being used to restrict access to treatments that would previously have been funded.

“We believe PCTs are using IFRs to put tight restrictions on access to a treatment, but without being seen to put a blanket ban in place,” he said.

Other treatments that required an IFR include cataract surgery and some therapies backed by NICE, such as diabetes education and insulin pumps. A Department of Health spokesman said that it is “unacceptable for the NHS to impose blanket bans for treatment on the basis of cost”.